Industrial Revolution (1800’s-1940’s)
Throughout the course of human history, science and technology have proved time and time again to be an underlying catalyst for key innovations. One invention that embodies the spirit of both science and technology is the steam engine and combustion engine. These two engines greatly influenced the Industrial Revolution leading to many new technologies that improved efficiency in the workplace and revolutionized humanity. The Watt Steam Engine and internal combustion engine were not only revolutionary at the time of their conception in the early 1800’s, but continue to be seen in many forms of technology such as modern-day trains and cars. Their continued use into today’s time shows the profound impact that one invention can have on the course of history. This impact is precisely what the study of science and technology is all about, and clearly demonstrates the implications that even small strides in innovation can benefit nearly all of humanity. From its humble beginnings in the 1800’s to worldwide mass production and travel, the Watt Steam and internal combustion engines have changed the way societies interact by leading to improvements in travel, changing the way energy is used efficiently, and sparking other inventions during the Industrial Revolution; the world as we know it would not be the same without the benefits provided by these two engines.
One of the developments that both the steam and combustion engines helped contribute to was the transformation of the way that energy was manipulated and utilized. There were many advancements before these two engines that revolutionized the way energy was used such as the windmill and water wheel. These inventions allowed the use of energy beyond simply what man could produce on their own and gave way to industrial advancements that changed the world. Another example of how energy was used is seen in the manipulation of animal power such as using oxen for farming, horses for carriages, and mules and donkeys as pack animals. The invention of the engines however increased production and efficiency exponentially higher than animal and wind/water power. By harnessing more of the energy output, and while also being reliable and affordable, the engine quickly became the easiest and most efficient piece of technology. This is true for both the steam and combustion engines however the specifics of the two differ slightly. For example, the combustion engine was more powerful with higher energy output, however, it came at a higher cost and also needed some form of liquid fuel to power (diesel, oil, gasoline, etc.); whereas the steam engine was more cost-effective, utilizing a cheaper fuel source (i.e. coal). The first version of the internal combustion engine, introduced by Etienne Lenoir in 1859, could power little more than a lamp and functioned using a revolutionary (albeit weak) cylinder-based, a two-stroke design that consumed “‘illuminating gas’”, a predecessor to the gasoline that we know today (anonymous). This was the first iteration in the design of the combustion engine that powers modern cars. After this came the creation of the four-stroke engine that provided more power and fuel efficiency. In 1885, Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler patented the four-stroke engine and attached it to carriages creating the first motorized vehicles. As improvements were made to Daimler and Maybach’s design, the engine became increasingly powerful and efficient. In addition to this, oil deposits were becoming more frequent and gasoline was introduced as the front runner in fuel technologies. The two-stroke and four-stroke advancements, as well as the introduction of gasoline, revolutionized the way energy was used and increased efficiency with fuel products in the combustion engine. As for the steam engine, modifications and improvements throughout the 18th century were critical in getting the most out of the engine. The original invention of the steam engine addressed the issue that was arising in the textile industry. In the 1600s, trade was a huge part of textile production. Production before the invention of the steam engine relied heavily on human and animal power that was confined to isolated areas. Inefficiency was a major theme due to the nature of what was required in the process of production for textiles; water sources tended to be in isolated areas, horses and mules transported goods at a slow pace. With Thomas Savery’s original steam-pump, an engine was invented that, “relied on steam to create a vacuum and pull water upwards through a pipe” (Whipps, 2008). Scientists, Thomas Newcomen and James Watt improved the capabilities of the steam engine by introducing pistons and cylinders. The engine took the place of the inefficient modes of production in the textile industry, and eventually in other industries. Replacing horses with engines revolutionized production in Europe during this time.
While energy use changed drastically with the invention of the steam and internal combustion engines, one very tangible change that occurred as a result of the increased efficiency in energy was the way that both engines aided in the advancement of travel. From steamboats to automobiles, modern transportation owes its origins to the invention of these engines. One combustion engine drastically changed transportation and furthered society as a whole. In the late 1890s, Rudolf Diesel invented the Diesel combustion engine which had a slightly different operating system than the less efficient four-stroke engine (Harford, 2016). By using a higher compression ratio, less fuel is needed to achieve a higher energy output allowing for the powering of larger vehicles at faster speeds. His engine eventually made it into French submarines and trucks all around the world by the 1920’s and into trains by the 1930’s effectively changing all modes of transportation at the time and increasing power while decreasing the amount of fuel needed. As production and improvement of the diesel engine progressed, the engine became much more affordable and was adopted as a centerpiece of both military and civilian technology. The diesel engine is just one example of how internal combustion engines have changed the transportation industry globally. With the improvement of the steam engine, local factories were thriving in production. The same effects can be seen on a far greater scale as the steam engine played a vital role in globalizing industries. With steam energy, factories were popping up all over, in places that would otherwise not be possible. James Watt and Matthew Boulton partnered together to make the steam engine customizable for all different types of companies in many different industries. “By the early 1800’s, high-pressure steam engines had become compact enough to move beyond the factory, prompting the first steam-powered locomotive to hit the rails in Britain in 1804” (Whipps, 2008). Suddenly, goods became more readily available to people hundreds of miles away. Because of the partnership between Boulton and Watt, trading improved greatly, allowing for greater efficiency in many different industries. With the improvement of the steam engine, local factories were thriving in production. The same effects can be seen on a far greater scale as the steam engine played a vital role in globalizing industries. With steam energy, factories were popping up all over, in places that would otherwise not be possible. James Watt and Matthew Boulton partnered together to make the steam engine customizable for all different types of companies in many different industries. “By the early 1800’s, high-pressure steam engines had become compact enough to move beyond the factory, prompting the first steam-powered locomotive to hit the rails in Britain in 1804” (Whipps, 2008). All of a sudden, goods became more readily available to people hundreds of miles away. Because of the partnership between Boulton and Watt, trading improved greatly, allowing for greater efficiency in many different industries.
Effect on the Industrial Revolution
Both the steam engine and combustion engine provided great advancements in energy and transportation. Beyond that, the engines played a vital role in the Industrial Revolution, and without them, the Industrial Revolution may not have happened at all. Before steam engines, machines in factories all around Great Britain produced cotton and another would weave the cloth. When factories started using steam power to run the machines, production speed increased and factories were increasing output rapidly causing people to have no other choice but to work in factories. Machines being powered by steam engines were the driving force for the Industrial Revolution. Combustion engines worked alongside steam engines during the Industrial Revolution in the sense that combustion engines also contributed to the advancement and development of many aspects of the Revolution. One example would be the use of the assembly line in Ford factories. The assembly line style of manufacturing was developed in 1913 (anonymous) and came along to facilitate the rapid growth of the automobile industry sparked by the emergence of the combustion engine and thus affordable automobiles. Without the combustion engine, the model T car could not be produced at the rate it was and technology and society would not have been advanced the way that they were. In addition to cars, the steam and combustion engines worked in conjunction to progress energy and transportation technologies and also spark other inventions that defined the Industrial Revolution. While the two engines differed in some ways, both affected the way that energy was used by using new technologies that increased efficiency such as using pressure to create energy (steam engine) and using ignitable liquid fuels to power pistons (combustion engine). In addition to energy efficiency, both engines altered transportation in profound ways. While the steam engine contributed to early steamboats and locomotives, the combustion engine-powered cars, trucks, boats, and submarines. The steam and combustion engines paved the way for not only modern transportation but also the Industrial Revolution. Providing the base for many machines such as powered textile factories and the car industry, the Industrial Revolution would have never left the ground if it hadn’t been for the invention of the engines. All of these elements work to demonstrate the extensive effects that the steam and combustion engines have had on society from the 1800’s to the present day, from energy use to transportation, to the Industrial Revolution, the modern world owes its thanks to the Watt steam engine and internal combustion engine.
- True or False: The combustion engine is still used heavily today.
- Short Answer: What are some of the advantages that the combustion engine brought about?
- Short Answer: Argue if the combustion engine was beneficial to society or not.
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